Storage gizmos from Santa?

If you haven't done your holiday shopping yet, get on it. I'm betting hi-tech gadgets will make a killing this year, with a good share of the money going to personal storage devices such as DVD recorders and external disk drives for PCs.

If you haven’t seen one of those units, imagine a flat, square box, 2 inches deep and 7 inches wide, containing a 3.5-inch disk drive that connects to your PC or Mac via a USB 2.0 or Firewire cable.

Seagate recently sent me its latest model for evaluation, and I can tell you now it will be difficult for me to part with it. It’s not just the 160GB capacity that gets me excited, nor the 7,200 rpm speed and the nearly 40 MBps transfer rate, nor the ability to start a backup by simply pushing a button. What really does it is its quietness.

I work with some of the noisiest storage devices around, so silence is golden. The Seagate unit is so quiet that I don't even hear it unless I press my ear against it. By contrast, the persistent humming of the hard drive in my dated Vaio laptop sounds like a jet engine, so I position it in the farthest expanse of my desk.

Maxtor is another vendor that offers similar devices with capacity ranging from 40GB to as much as 300GB. Obviously, you pick the model according to your storage needs, but the price varies consistently with the hard drive size. You should budget about $100 for the smallest units and about $400 for the largest.

But is it worth spending that much on your home computer? Yes, because you can use an external drive not only for backups, but also to store digital photos and movie clips independently from your computer internal storage.

Another noteworthy advantage of using an external drive: The next time you replace your PC or Mac, moving those documents to the new machine will be totally plug and play.

If you’re worried about running out of space or about putting all your eggs in one basket, keep in mind that you can stack multiple units, daisy-chaining them via the IEEE 1394a (Firewire) interface.

Better yet, consider pairing your external disk drive with a DVD recorder, which will minimize the risk of erasing files by mistake and will also make available infinite, albeit slower, storage on those reasonably inexpensive and long-lasting media.

Of course buying a DVD recorder will bore yet another hole in you wallet, but the reward will be safely preserving priceless family moments such as your child's graduation.

Those arguments just sparked déjà vu. In this column I've discussed similar problems and similar solutions, but with a slant on the corporate environment, which brings me to the conclusion that there isn't much difference between personal or corporate data-recording challenges. In both cases, investing in innovative storage solutions bears a steep price tag, but opens the way to new and exciting possibilities.

Chew on that as a possible New Year's resolution.

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